George Elliott Clarke (born February 12, 1960) is a Canadian poet and playwright. Born in Windsor Plains, Nova Scotia, he has spent much of his career writing about the black communities of Nova Scotia and served for a time in the African-American Studies department at Duke University. He earned a B.A. honours degree in English from the University of Waterloo (1984), an M.A. in English from Dalhousie University (1989) and a Ph.D. in English from Queen’s University (1993). In addition, he has received honorary degrees from Dalhousie University (LL.D.), the University of New Brunswick (Litt.D.), the University of Alberta (Litt.D.), and the University of Waterloo (Litt.D.). In 2001 he won the Governor General’s Award for poetry for his book,Execution Poems.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
One morning in September 1976, as my mother was driving me (in our large, green car) to Queen Elizabeth High School, in Halifax, NS, I chanced to read American poet Ezra Pound’s translation of a poem by Li Po, title “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.” To my 16-year old intelligence, this ancient Chinese lyrics sounded like Motown soul songs. I decided I should try to write poetry that was just as musical and soulful.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
I derive inspiration from everything: movies, newspapers, dreams, conversations, recipes, the radio, song lyrics, catalogues, comic books, other poets’ poems, the Bible, eavesping, and the accidental observations of the senses: silk that feels like milk, milk that sounds like silk…
What is your writing process?
My poetry is either the spontaneous perspiration of emotion (i.e. inspiration) or the dispassionate and deliberate assembling and organizing of disparately composed lines and phrases—a coherent collage…
What is your revision/editing process?
In revising, I read the poem aloud, check for superfluous words, seek vivid verbs, and attempt to make my meanings as clear as possible.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
I wrote poetry throughout my high school year. However, I started, at age 15, as a songwriter; later, at age 16, after encountering Pound’s poem (as cited above), I turned from penning song lyrics to inking ‘free verse’.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
A young poet needs only two attributes to succeed in this art: a) curiosity about life and humanity; b) a willingness to speak the truth.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
Advice? Read everyone and write everything.